In an effort to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing the COVID-19 pandemic) universities and businesses are closing their doors and asking people to work from home. For many people, working from home doesn’t change what they do much, but how can wet-lab researches switch from cell culture and Western blots to home-based working?
While you’ll have to put a hold on your lab-based research, this could be an opportunity to organize and get ahead in the other areas of your work. We’ve put together ten ideas you can do to progress your work.
1. Write a Paper (or Two!)
If you are in the lucky position of having enough data to put together a paper then this is an easy way to keep your work going. But even if you aren’t quite ready to write up a paper to submit now, you should still consider giving it a go. Drafting up a paper, with placeholders for data you still need to get, is a great way of reviewing your work so far and identifying the holes you need to fill once you are back in the lab.
2. Do a Literature Review
Often sitting down and reviewing the current literature is something that is put off in favour of more hands-on experiments, so this is a perfect time to catch up. Write a review that you could consider submitting as a paper, use for introductions to research papers or, for PhD students, use in your thesis.
3. Organize Your References
Reference managers are fantastic tools that simplify adding references to your papers and presentations. If you don’t already use one, now is a good time to get set up. And for those that already have a reference manager, spend some time curating your database by removing duplicates, filling in missing information and filing items correctly.
4. Draw Your Own Diagrams
Have you ever read a paper or review, or seen presentation where the diagrams (signalling pathways, protein interactions, etc.) look amazing and send a wave of envy over you? If so, why not spend some time getting familiar with the software to design your own? There are plenty of free options available out there that you can use that are just as powerful as the paid versions. Check out our resources section below for some links.
5. Practice Your Presentations
Many researchers fear presentations, but they are a staple of science life from lab meetings to conferences. You need to be able to present your research. Although you may be stuck at home, there is nothing stopping you getting an audience together. Use video conferencing software and get your lab or other colleagues online and get presenting. It’ll help with the feelings of isolation too as you’ll still be in contact with others.
6. Learn to Code
If you have data analysis that you need to do repeatedly then learning to code can save you time in the future by automating these steps. It also standardizes the analysis step ensuring that the data is handled in the exact same way every single time – hard to do manually but important for data integrity. Lots of free resources exist to help you learn to code – check out some in our Resources section below.
7. Make a Career Plan
We can be so busy working in the now that we forget to think about the future. So if you have been putting off thinking about your future, take some time to do so now. Research the different careers out there and spend some time determining where you want to be in the future. If you do already know, make or review your plan on how to get there. Perhaps there is some training you need to get you there that could be done remotely through online courses.
8. Slow Down and Let Your Mind Wander
Eureka moments don’t have to take place in the lab, sometimes just taking some time to let your mind drift can allow you to see problems from new angles and discover novel solutions. So go for a walk (with proper social distancing) or sit in your garden and zone out for a bit.
9. Make Some Connections
Conferences are a common way to meet up with other scientists in your field and have heated discusses and forge productive collaborations. This doesn’t need to stop just because we can’t travel. Contact potential collaborators and set up telephone or video calls. You can exercise your mind while forging connections that will aid your research once you are back in the lab.
10. Take Care of Yourself
It’s easy to work 60+ hours a week in the lab, but this can come at a cost to your physical and mental health. Use this enforced downtime to get more sleep, meditate, do some exercise (there are many apps and workouts you can do from your own home, no gym required!). Also take time to eat healthy, perhaps even cook more from scratch. Cooking and baking aren’t that different from following a new lab protocol, and if you’ve cultured yeast in the lab you’ve already got some of the skills to make your own bread (if you can get your hands on any flour of course). Take time to look after yourself and if you are coping well, remember that others might not be, check-in not only with family but colleagues too.
Here at Bitesize Bio we already work remotely and have over the years come across pitfalls and solutions to working from home. If you are new to this and want some tips on how to work from home, join our live webinar on 25 March, The Art of Working from Home, for Scientists.
Have you got other ideas for working from home as a researcher? Let us know in the comments below!
These are just some of the resources available, not an exhaustive list.